Easy-to-grow perception a problem for flax

Agronomist says the crop needs good management, including appropriate fertilizer, fungicides and weed control

INDIAN HEAD, Sask. — Researchers are responding to producer complaints about seemingly unpredictable flax yields, says Rachel Evans, extension agronomist with the Flax Council of Canada.

“Some producers tend to think of flax as a low input crop, but in fact, it is quite the opposite,” Evans said during the Indian Head Agricultural Research Foundation’s annual field day in mid-July.

“It’s a crop that requires a good management plan and can respond well to appropriate seeding dates, fertilizer rates, fungicide when necessary and strong weed control.

“Flax doesn’t handle excess moisture and with the past couple of wet fall years, producers haven’t had the high yields they were hoping for. But unlike canola, it doesn’t shatter, and some producers have taken flax crops off in the spring and recorded No. 1 yields. However, that isn’t ideal.”

Evans said nitrogen rates and fungicides are the lower hanging fruit for increasing yield when it comes to research.

As well, researchers are looking into the suggestion that flax does not respond to increased fertilizer rates, she added.

The Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission and the Western Grains Research Foundation his in the second year of a three-year trial looking at re-establishing the optimum nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer rates at eight prairie locations, including Indian Head.

New cultivar genetics, changes in equipment and recently published findings on fungicides interaction with nitrogen rates warrant this work. It’s the largest study of this kind on flax fertility in the last 20 years.

The Indian Head Research Farm began working with flax seed treatments in 2013.

“In the first work, we combined nutrient seed treatments and fungicide treatments and combinations of the two against untreated seed,” said IHARF research manager Chris Holzapfel.

“We went with Vita Flow as the fungicide and with trials located at Indian Head and Melfort. We saw significant increases in plant numbers at both locations with Indian Head slightly ahead with 45 to 50 bushels to the acre. But a word of caution — increased plant numbers don’t always result in higher yields.”

Other flax trials and projects are being wrapped up under the Flax Council of Canada’s Growing Forward 2 program.

Evans said research projects are looking at improving abiotic stress tolerance, including drought-tolerance with breeding and improving flax genetics.

Weed scientists at the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Manitoba are investigating im-proved weed management options for flax. Significant gains have also been made into improving pasmo management and developing pasmo resistance cultivars.

Harvest management rises to the top of discussion at this time of the year.

Pre-harvest glyphosate is beneficial if green weeds or perennials are present and may help with crop dry-down under certain circumstances, particularly when the weather is 20 C and dry.

As well, the flax industry is funding a researcher at the University of British Columbia to look at varieties with reduced fibre to try to eliminate the post-harvest flax fibre burning.

“The goal is to eventually have varieties with fibre that can be chopped and spread during harvest,” said Evans. “That research is ongoing and it could successfully eliminate a practice which is no longer sustainable.”

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